How These Beautiful Nungshiba Dolls Have Become a Means of Empowerment For Naga Women

Astate defined by its lush mountainous terrain, picturesque village settlements and rich cultural heritage, Nagaland is also recognised for its finesse in fashion and handicrafts. In keeping with tradition, an all-girls entrepreneurial team in Nagaland has started a unique venture called Nungshiba Handicrafts.

Not only does this initiative provide an opportunity to emerging home-grown designers to market their handicrafts, it also helps them make a decent livelihood by selling them at their outlet. Their most popular product? The beautiful handcrafted Nungshiba dolls!

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Nungshiba dolls

In 2011, Zuboni Humtsoe had just graduated from college. With her father seriously ill and her family undergoing a severe financial crisis, Humtsoe knew that she would have start earning immediately to be able to be contribute to her family’s income. Sitting on the cold benches of the hospital, a determined Humtsoe promised herself that she would make her own destiny and not wait for anybody. While most of her relatives advised her to try for a government job, Humtsoe decided to follow her passion and set up a small business with the tiny capital of ₹ 3500 that she had saved from her college scholarship.

Passionate about art, fashion and photography, Humtsoe has always wanted to do something different. Taking inspiration from beautiful Japanese dolls, she decided to use left over fabrics to make beautiful handcrafted dolls that they would marketed under their brand, ‘Precious Me Love’ or PML. The idea behind this was to up-cycle fabrics and reduce carbon footprints while simultaneously empowering more local women in the process.

Over the years, Humtsoe worked really hard, taught herself, experimented, innovated, and kept herself open to feedback and criticism. She also surrounded herself with genuine and positive people who inspired her to push herself and never give up. With time, everything started falling into place.

Today, PML sells everything from vintage clothing and fashion accessories to a variety of tribal handcrafts. However, their signature products remains the traditional Nungshiba dolls. The dolls have been named Nungshiba (which means ‘love’ in Manipuri) in honour of PML’s first crafts designer, Babita Meitei, a Manipuri.

Inspired by the beautiful tribal women of Nagaland, each Nungshiba doll is carefully designed and takes a day to make with two expert crafts women working together tirelessly. The end result is beautiful handmade dolls that wear unique mekhlas (traditional wrap-arounds worn by the Naga women of each tribe) with intricate pattern of beads and hand-stitched designs. Humtsoe says that they take special care to ensure that each each Nungshiba handcrafted doll is special, unique and a joy that will last forever.

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Nungshiba dolls
Photo Source

From their humble beginnings, PML has steadily grown to become one of the fastest growing online fashion brands from Nagaland. Today, PML employs 10 girls, including a differently-abled girl. The team includes Zuboni Humtsoe, the Marketing and Creative Head; her sister Lozano, the Creative Director; Alen Konyak, the Logistics Manager, Wondeno Ezung; the official photographer; Lothungbeni Humtsoe, the Stylist and Sales Manager; Babita Meitei, the Handicrafts designer; Emilo Enny, Assistant Handicrafts Designer; Inali, Julie and Zuchan, the Nungshiba doll-makers.

Humstsoe describes PML as an extension of her dreams, her personality and her ambition. Recalling how tough it was initially to run her business with the little money she had, she says that it had been tough journey but she was glad that she had made it.

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Zuboni Humtsoe with PM Modi at the Hornbill Festival 2014
Photo Source

When asked how it feels to be invited to present talks on her success story and to have encouraging strangers writing to her from across the world, in an interview to the Morung Express, Humtsoe says,

“Never in my wildest dream did I think that it would turn out to be a serious career path. Who would have thought that a simple business run through Facebook would reach this level! When I look back I feel like crying. I won’t lie, it’s been the most difficult but also the most rewarding and amazing experience.”

A woman who has no qualms to admit that she knows what poverty feels like, Humtsoe also adds how proud she is of her hardworking team, explaining that while she still cannot pay them as much as she would like to, all the girls are happy and satisfied with their work at PML. The entire team follow a work culture in which everybody is an equal and they all work, eats and play together. To foster a sense of oneness in the team, the girls also avoid speaking in their native tribal languages.

A talented entrepreneur who wishes to be a philanthropist one day, Humtsoe wants to build PML into a brand that celebrates fashion, feminity, creativity and freedom. Her mission, as she states, is to build long-lasting relationships with her customers and clients by providing exceptional quality and customer services. She is also working to make PML a platform that offers a plethora of opportunities for the local youth – PML has been regularly featuring and promoting talented young models, photographers, stylists, seamstresses, and doll-makers from Nagaland.

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Nungshiba dolls
Photo Source

Rebelling against family pressures and financial hurdles, the women at PML are proof that there is no limit to what you can do or achieve when you believe in yourself and your dreams. As Humtsoe, an inspiration to many women in Nagaland, says,

“You can do anything or be anybody you want to be, but you have to believe and never give up. Always remember no dream is too big and no dreamer too small.”

To know more about this initiative, follow their Facebook official page here. You can also check out their online shopping website here.

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